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Posts Tagged ‘Work in Retirement’

Fitting “Work” in Retirement

Friday, February 14th, 2014

We’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater when we decide retirement means totally giving up work. Give up the commute, the office curmudgeon, nasty customers, demanding bosses, and the overall stress level of a typical fulltime job.  Yes, letting go of all that certainly make sense.  But that’s different than giving up work.

Work is not just doing a job for pay.  Work—sustained effort toward a desired goal–is an essential piece of being happily human.  It connects us to the world, proves we are capable, and makes us think.  Work helps give life both structure and meaning.  We need work—even if we choose not to be employed.

Once you retire, you need to pay a lot closer attention to doing the right work—the work that makes you happy though.  During the career years, you barter that right to choose what kind of work you do for the sake of a paycheck.  You do what the company needs and get paid for spending your time that way.

In retirement, you get paid whether you work or not.  That sounds like heaven, but for many retirees it’s the road to decline.  When you don’t have to do anything, deciding what you do want to do is often downright difficult.  So you either start doing everything with little satisfaction because it’s not a good fit or you do nothing and get more and more depressed because of the emptiness.  Once you get stuck in either of those grooves, it’s hard to get out.  And both set the stage for health problems.

Please believe me: we do need to work once we retire.  Let go of the notion that you have a right not to have to do any work once you stop going to the office or the shop or the mill.  Think twice before you hire the yard guy and a housecleaning service and start going out to eat every night.  Continuing to do the parts of those kinds of work that bring you joy makes a lot more sense.

To find the right things to put effort into, you need to listen to yourself rather than loved ones, retirement gurus, get-rich-quick experts, or even your spiritual advisor.  Knowing yourself is not a luxury or a New Age bluff at this stage of the game.  If you want to be happy once you retire, you not only need to know what kind of work you get excited about, you need to know how to structure it and how much of it is enough for your personal satisfaction.

Sounds easy but it’s not.  I have wasted years pursuing my writing like I did the jobs I held in corporate America.  That meant I lost steam after a few months on a project, regardless of how excited I was about it when I started.  I took me a long time to learn that when I make writing the ultimate and exclusively important priority, I lose the balance with the rest of what I want in my life now in a matter of a few months.

Typically we assume the dissatisfied feeling comes from having made the wrong choice about what to do as work.  But be sure it’s not a matter of having relied on an outdated approach to structuring it before you scuttle the whole dream.  If you make everything else wait until it’s done, start with an unrealistically large pile of it every day, and rush to make it all happen—just like the good ol’ career days—you are on the wrong track.  That is not satisfying as retirement.

This is our last, best chance to live a balanced life.  Work really does need to be part of it.  But so does play, rest, personal adventure, spending time with the grandkids, sitting with a sick friend, learning to ride a bicycle, or whatever else beckons you.  If you go at the work you choose as if you were back on the job, you gobble the time you need for the  other things.  To get it right at this stage of the game, you need to come up with a way to structure your work time so that it leaves room for the rest.  You need a more comprehensive priority scheme that includes everything that’s important to you in how you plan your day.

Knowing yourself well is the place to start to get this right.  If you haven’t already done it, that’s your first retirement work.  Use Supercharged Retirement or any book that helps you.  Talk to a life coach or other advisor whose opinion you value.  Think quietly, regularly, and carefully about how you want work to fit into your overall blueprint.  Then live that way.

This article originally appeared in the Feb 2014 edition of Barbara Morris’s online newsletter Put Old on Hold.
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Mary Lloyd is a consultant and speaker and author of Supercharged Retirement: Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love, a manual for building your own best retirement.  Her first novel, Widow Boy will be out in 2014.  For more, see her website.

It Isn’t Always Either/Or

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

We have a bad habit going as a culture. We tend to see most of our decisions as either/or. Either I go to college or get a job. Either I have a career or have fun. Either I keep working or I retire.

The assumption is that if you do one of the things, you aren’t going to be able to do the other.  Looking at it that way makes for rather stark choices.  Most of the time, it really isn’t “either/or.”  It’s a matter of figuring out how much of both you want and then shaping your solution to get that.

Many have gone to college and worked simultaneously–some holding more than one job.  As a society we tend to feel sorry for these people.  They have a lot in a day, yes.  But if it’s what they need and feel works best, why are we pitying them?

Most of the time, doing the if-this-then-not-that kind of choice is more impoverishing.  If you only take classes (i.e. “go to college”), you have no clue what a day at work is all about until you start on that first rung of your big-time career ladder.  College graduates without work experience are not the first to be hired.  They are untested in terms of knowing how to show up on time, understanding what is (working) and is not (texting and talking to friends for long periods) is part of a work day.  If you just take college courses for those years, you will be a bigger risk for an employer and require a longer learning curve than the guy (or gal) who worked either between semesters or while enrolled.

In addition, there are points in most college careers where what you are doing starts to get boring.  It is very tempting to quit.  Maybe you haven’t gotten to what you’re really interested in yet in terms of the coursework.  Maybe you have a new love that’s not at the campus where you’re studying.  At various times while getting my undergraduate degree, I worked as a grocery checker, a deli clerk, and in the finishing room at one of the local paper mills.  Numerous times, my commitment to stick with getting that degree came from what I knew about what else was out there as a job if I didn’t finish college.

So why I am talking about this in a blog that’s focused on retirement issues?  The dumbest “either/or” thinking we do is about retirement.  Either you keep working or you stop totally.  Why?  Who decided those were the only options?  If you want to get retirement right, this is the very first decision you need to put some sophistication into.

The question is not “do I keep working or do I stop working?”  The question is “How do I want work to fit into the retirement stage of my life?”  Work will be there in some form once you retire unless you have severe health issues.  Perhaps you’ll prefer to volunteer rather than earn a paycheck.  Maybe you will get into creative endeavors instead of helping customers.  But one way or the other, putting regular effort into something needs to continue to be part of your life.  But it needs to be work that works for you–work you love.  And how much of it is ideal will be a decision that’s uniquely yours as well.

Sometimes, it’s wise to totally give up the work you have been doing during your primary career years.  A few days ago, I met a woman hiker who’s within 14 months of being able to retire from UPS.  She needs to step away from that job because it’s physically demanding and her body is starting to object to lifting 70 pounds and driving a route for 12 hours a day during the holiday peak.  But she sees that it’s not “either/or.”  When she reaches that magic milestone, her goal is to move into a kind of work that gives her more flexibility.  That way she can hike on Wednesdays without having to be on vacation.  That way she can be part of the family things that she didn’t get to participate in during her career as a UPS driver.

Either/or decisions are fine when you’re deciding where to go for dinner–or even on vacation.  But limiting yourself to either/or on the life decisions will leave you sadly shortchanged.

The real question is not “this?…or that?”  (Well…maybe if you doing an eye exam….) It’s “What do I want out of this situation and how can I get that to happen?”

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Mary Lloyd is a speaker and consultant and author of Supercharged Retirement:  Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love.  For more, see her website.

 

Rekindling Old Loves

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

Nope. I’m not talking about re-sparking old romances. It is rather heady to reconnect with your high school sweetheart or your first crush.  But there are other loves that pack as hefty a punch at this stage that have nothing to do with “boy reconnects with girl.”  The magic I’m looking at here is the delight of coming back to things you used to love to do but lost track of.

Yes, we evolve. Some of what we spent the bulk of our time on no produces a glimmer of excitement.  Listening to Beatles songs and swooning over that George Harrison poster don’t ring your chime like they did when you were thirteen.  Likewise, pitching green apples at passing cars is probably not up for a reboot.  I’ve gotten three great lessons in things that you do want to resurrect in the last few days though.

I met two new friends today, in two different contexts.  Each had a story to tell about something they’d recently reconnected with that was making a big difference in their lives.

The first was a woman with a strong pedigree in finance who owns her own business and is venturing beyond the safe and familiar in what she’d doing with her career.  Simultaneously, things have been very challenging personally, particularly with her mother’s increasing dementia and her dad’s denial of that reality. The poor woman probably doesn’t have time to turn around given all her current responsibilities.  But six months ago, she decided to go back to something that had always brought her joy—ice skating—in a new way. She joined a synchronized ice skating team.

She’s not the youngest member of the team, but she’s not the oldest either.  She was like everyone else in one very important way.  She loves to figure skate.  Being part of the team is an ideal version of this joy for this time in her life.  A team effort means she has to focus on the team’s workout instead of whatever is crashing down around her ears beyond the rink.  She has teammates—wonderful people who support her.  Even better, they’re good—a great way to confirm your own worth when the personal pieces seem to be in tatters.

My second new friend is returning to an earlier version of work that he loved.  He’s not shifting his career back that way though.  He’s chosen instead to “dabble” as a strategy to move in that direction as he prepares for his version of retirement.  His passion?  Publishing.  Only now as he starts to play in that arena again, he has years of experience with business plans and management as well a deep love of books and writing to help him make things work.

You can hear the excitement in his voice when he speaks of the project where he’s currently testing his combined old and new skills.  His vision of retirement is uniquely his, and it’s already adding energy to his life.

The third example is me.  For the last seven years, I’ve focused on creating resources to help our culture create a wiser blueprint for what we do after 50.  I’m still passionate that we need a smarter approach for everyone’s sake.  But that message is now coming from more and more voices so my role can start to diminish.  My treat is to myself is to write fiction.

After a self-imposed hiatus, I’m back to the delight of “playing God” in the stories I come up with.  I, too, have had some difficult challenges of late.  Knowing I’m going spend time with my stories every day makes those challenges less difficult.

It’s hard to describe the joy of coming back to the favorite pursuits of younger years.  It’s a bit like meeting a dear but long-lost friend, learning all over again how much you enjoyed having him/her in your life, and then discovering that very special person is moving in next door to you.

We are so lucky when the things we love circle back and catch our attention and devotion again.  Usually, it’s not exact same effort as when we were so enthralled the first time.  Most often, it’s even more magical—both because of all the things learned in the meantime that make you more effective and because you cherish it more because it was lost.

You’re not living in the past if you pick up old pastimes.  You’ve had the chance to reconnect with an old friend.  Enjoy!

 

Leisure — The Salt of Life

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

Some folks may be feeling sorry for themselves because the Great Recession trashed their Golden Years retirement plans.  That makes as much sense as being upset because the caterpillar turned into a butterfly.

We spend our working years looking forward to not working—to long lazy stretches of lying on the warm sand at a sunny beach or relaxing in a favorite recliner.  Reality is different though—100% leisure isn’t satisfying in the long haul.   Yep.  It’s a bad idea even if you can fund it.

Leisure is like salt–when you sprinkle a little on what you have cooking it brings out the flavor.  But if you try to exist on a steady diet of just salt, your meals are going to be not only very unpleasant.  They will be dangerous.

Too much salt can kill you.  That’s true of leisure as well. Leisure steals a lot of important emotional nutrients from your diet if you resort to it too often.  You don’t feel competent because you haven’t done anything to prove your mettle.  You lose confidence in yourself because you aren’t doing anything significant.  You start to ask yourself scary questions like “Why am I even here?” You lose your enthusiasm for life.  There’s no zing in “doing nothing.”

Leisure means you expend little, if any, effort.  It is not the same as play.  Play is far more active and personal—and much more essential.  According to researcher Dr. Stuart Brown, play helps our brains develop, makes our empathy bloom, helps us navigate complex social situations, and is essential to creativity and innovation. Play is for everyone, too—not just kids.

Most of us do need more play when we retire.  Careers are built on the mantra of productivity and play is, by definition (at least by Dr. Brown), not productive.  So we don’t value play.  Stuart notes that the opposite of play isn’t work.  It’s depression.  So yes, we do need to play when we retire.  But play is active.  When you play, you are doing something and having fun at it.

Play is fun and we like to do it—at least once we can get past that productivity thing.  But we don’t need an exclusive diet of that either.  Play is like sugar—it sweetens up your life and makes things a lot nicer.  You need more of it than leisure—just like you use more sugar than salt in your cooking (unless you’re making dill pickles or sauerkraut).

But the real deal is flour.  (In a gluten-free environment, it’s just not wheat flour.)  You use flour—lots of it–in bread and pasta.  You use it for gravy and coating the chicken you are going to bake or—gasp!—fry. And, of course, there’s flour in cookies, cakes, and pastries.  In my kitchen analogy, the piece we need the most of, the “flour”, is work.

We need work, just like we need starch in our diets.  But just like whole grain flour is good for you and bleached white flour is not, meaningful unpaid work is better for you than anything you do for money that you don’t have your heart in.  The work you need when you retire should be more wholesome and more enriching—but it should be there.

Having to let go of the old Golden Years idea of retirement is probably the nicest “downside” of an economic mess if you’re looking at the last third of life.  If you can’t do the leisure-centered version of retirement, rejoice.  You didn’t need all that leisure.  You need a chance to play and a chance to do meaningful work along with that leisure.  With some effort and reflection, you might be able get both of those things in work you continue to do for pay.  If that’s not possible, you can still fit them into your day with a bit of ingenuity and effort because none of the three is a 24/7 requirement.  (Only basics like breathing truly fall in that category.)

Human beings are not made to sit around the swimming pool sipping mojitos day after day.  That kind of experience is only fun as an interlude–a break between more emotionally, mentally, and physically engaging activities. A little is pleasant.  A lot is a maddening prison.

Learn to play.  Find good work.  Sprinkle in some leisure every once in a while.  You’ll be miles ahead of the folks who packed the car and moved to Easy Street the day they stopped working.

 

How to Be Old

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

Old has so many definitions, but what I’m looking at here is how we advance in years. And I have become a bit of a snob about it. This surprises me since a few years ago I was rather put off with a local newspaper columnist when she pronounced “I’m not interested in interviewing anyone unless they are over 70.”

Now I’m limiting my own admiration for amazing things done in advanced age, to people not over 70…or even 80. I save my awe for what folks in their 90’s are doing.

My first dose of this was a newspaper article about a local retired teacher that came out a couple months ago. This nonagenarian is just doing what she likes to do but she’s still going strong and making a huge difference to young readers with her effort.

After she retired, she decided to volunteer as a reading tutor with kids who were having problems. But as she worked with these kids, she realized the materials available weren’t what the kids really needed. So she created her own materials.

Cool, huh? That was just the start. The materials worked so well that teachers in the schools noticed and wanted the resource themselves.  So with the help of her daughter–who did the illustrations–she made them into a formal set of materials. GoPhonics was born.

When I read the article, she was just embarking on even another step–to create a program for teaching teachers how to use those materials–because that’s what is needed now. Sylvia Davison is in her 90’s. You would never know it by how she is living her life.

Just this last weekend, I read of another amazingly active person who’s less that a decade from the century mark. Fred Oldfield is has been a commercially successful artist for over three quarters of a century, specializing in Western art,but also doing a lot of murals. He still paints, but even more amazing, he’s active in teaching kids painting and in raising money to help fund art education for kids.

Don’t picture this as doddering old guy who shuffles between his easel and his bed for a few hours every day. Don’t think this guy is just the facade for other, younger volunteers.  He still rides his horse regularly and makes his way around the Heritage Center where he teaches with the ease of someone much younger. Fred Oldfield is 95.

A recent AARP interview with Dustin Hoffman reveals I’m not the only one intrigued with these outliers of continued vibrance. Hoffman mentioned two whom he’s noticed. Manoel de Oliveira is still directing at 104. And then there’s the 94-year old guy who, after finishing a triathalon, was asked if he was going to run anymore. His reply, “Oh, yeah. I got to keep going until I get old.”

That’s a funny line, but it’s also the gyst of what’s going on with these folks. They do not see themselves as “old.” And that is the best way for all of us to advance in years. How many birthdays you’ve had is completely irrelevant to what you will be happiest doing with your time, effort, and resources.

These people are all deeply interested in something and spend a lot of time and effort on it. Age is a totally useless concept for them–at least in terms of themselves. (The ones who are working with kids may have age parameters for the kids they work with, but that’s a whole different thing.)

I preach a lot about having a sense of purpose–something to do that goes beyond your personal comfort and pleasure. That is definitely an essential piece of becoming a centenarian superstar. But there’s another piece to this that we all need as well.

We need to stop thinking the “old” thoughts. When something aches or I don’t have the energy, I can often make it go way if I’m not excited enough about what I am planning to do.  I won’t do that if I tell myself “Well, that’s just what happens when you’re my age.”  It’s way too easy in this culture to start telling yourself that!

I want to be like Grandma Moses.  She got to into painting in earnest when she was 78 and created over 1,500 canvasses before she died at the age of 101.  She went from displaying her art at a local drugstore for $3 each to national renown (and $10,000 price tags) in less than a decade. Her example is far more compelling than that of my maternal grandfather who retired from a corporate job at 65 like everyone else and then just sat there because he “had a heart condition.”  He kept breathing for another 20 years, but he wasn’t really living  them.

The more energy you use, the more you have–no matter how many candles were on your last birthday cake.  Dustin Hoffman, quoting Bill Connelly about the point of the movie Quartet in which they were both involved, had it right: “Don’t die until you’re dead.”

 

Work after 60: Look at Your Options

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

Society’s script for our 60’s says we walk off into the sunset to spend the “Golden Years” doing whatever we want.  But the checkbook—or the investment account –may be saying “not so fast.”  What do you do instead?  Trudging along doing what you’re already doing is not your only option.

According to Tom Lauricella in Wall Street Journal Sunday, almost a third of American men and women ages of 65 and 69 were still in the workforce in 2011.  Of those 70 to 74, almost 20% were still working.  This isn’t just a sour economy.  Many of these people simply prefer to include paid work as part of their lives.  More and more studies are confirming that people who remain in the work force are physically healthier, less likely to experience early cognitive decline, and have a stronger sense of well-being.  Work is good stuff for most of us.  But it’s got to be work we love.

If you need or want to keep earning money as you age, take a look at your options, your priorities, and your preferences.  Use that information to create a life that includes paid work, but that’s still an authentic balance of what you really care about.

Find work that’s your life calling.  Work at this stage of life is best done for the meaning it holds rather than the paycheck it provides.  Even if you do need the money, find something you believe in if you want to be happy (also healthy).  Doing work you‘re passionate about makes the time you spend at work part of your overall “Good Life” rather than just the means of funding it.

Find work that’s flexible.  When you are good at what you do or are willing to do something no one else wants to, you can often move toward more of a say in when you work and when you don’t.  The first step in getting to this nirvana is getting really good at what you do—which is a lot easier if you love what you do.  The second is knowing what kind of flexibility is important to you.  Is it the freedom to be able to take time during work hours watch your grandson compete in high school debate?  Or is it the flexibility to live where it’s warm in the winter and where it’s cool in the summer?

Sometimes, you don’t even need to change companies to find this.  (Home Depot and CVS were already hiring cold climate employees to work at warm climate stores where they wintered five years ago.)

Another version of flexibility comes from using technology. If you’re available to answer client questions via smart phone or can generate a bid with a laptop and wifi, where you are physically when you do it isn’t an issue.  Instead of shunning new technology, learn to use it to claim greater freedom in how you work.

Combine several small efforts to make the amount of money you need.  We tend to think in the singular about earning a living.  One job.  One paycheck.  In the traditional work force, this is true (at least for now).  But when you want to give your life better balance, combining two or three choice part-time jobs may make more sense.

I have a friend who’s a very convincing Santa.  Every year he returns to the warm climate of his career years to be a mall Santa for an employer delighted with his return.  For the rest of the year, he parlays his teaching experience into paid gigs as a tour guide for people eager to see the wonders of the western US.

Your combination will be unique to you, of course.  Let’s say you love quilting and also love dogs.  You could do custom quilting or teach quilting classes and also run a dog walking business.  Quilting works your mind and your fine motor skills.  Being responsible for those dogs keeps you fit—and feeling that unconditional love animals offer.  And you put money in the bank from both pleasures.

Anything is possible once you step into this foreign terrain called “life after 60.”  But don’t wait until you’re on that stretch of road to figure out where you want to go then.  You have to know what you love and have a pretty good idea of what kind of lifestyle is likely to work best for you if you want to thrive after 60—whether you retire or keep working.

Now’s the time to get started on that custom-designed life.

 

Retirement Reset

Monday, July 18th, 2011

We’re still us! Study results reported last week by SunAmerica suggest that Americans in or approaching retirement are “resetting” how they see and want to experience that stage of life.

In other words, the boomers are going to chart their own course yet again.  This is good news for everyone, not just those born between 1946 and 1964.

As the largest generation to enter it looks at retirement, we’re starting to see it as a real stage of life instead of just “play time.”  According to the study, two thirds of us want to include work in some way.  This is not new.  The Met Life Foundation found similar results in 2005.  But this reality needs all the attention we can find for it because finding that way to work is going to take some personal effort.

According to the study, we are more interested in family relationships now than acquiring wealth. This is also good news.  The “wealth” thing is where greed gets into the mix, and that poisons the economic well for all of us.

We now want financial security rather than just having a lot of money. That fits a whole lot better with living a long and happy life.   “Having a lot of money” creates issues about keeping a lot of money.  Having the financial security to do the things you want–or need–to do puts the focus on living your life well instead.

The study also notes that we can see we might be called upon to help someone we love financially–and we are no longer just talking about our parents.   This is a return to caring and a departure from “getting mine.”  More good news for society.

Last, according to the study, we are now more intent on getting the retirement planning right by enlisting professional help (but do bear in mind who sponsored the study).  Preparing for this stage of your life  on your own doesn’t seem like such a slam dunk anymore.

SunAmerica and Age Wave have done a great job of highlighting how Americans are seeing the potential and the risks of this stage of life differently.  But how you set it up for yourself is still up to you.

There are a lot more pieces to this puzzle than “wealth” or even “financial security.”  Take the time to understand and include all of them. What do you want to do next? What gets you jazzed enough to give you a sense of purpose?  How do you want to live and who do you want with you?  You get to decide on all of this–but only if you make those decisions.

A good retirement requires a lot more than just a magic number in your investment portfolio or pension account. To keep yourself healthy and happy, you need to know a lot about yourself, your spouse if you have one, and what’s going to make you want to get up every morning once you’ve finished the career years.

 

Dumbing Down Your Resume

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

The idea that you must “dumb down” your resume to be more appealing to younger hiring supervisors is nonsense.  When you have a lot of experience, knowing just what to highlight to showcase your value is a challenge. But young decision-makers are not dumb and “dumbing down” implies a sense of superiority that will probably bleed through in what you write–and in what you say if you get an interview.

You need to tweak it to be the most effective in can be every time you use it.  But that’s about focus and targeting what’s needed in that job, not pretending you are less than you.  It’s not that younger hiring decision makers aren’t smart enough or experienced enough to comprehend things as vast as your experience.  It’s that “your experience” isn’t what the hiring situation is about.  The company’s need is the focus of any hiring decision.  If you want to be in the running to do the work, shape your resume–and your cover letter, interview answers, and any other communication–around how what you can do matches what they need done.

Here are six questions to help you determine if your resume is saying a whole lot less than you think it is:

1.  Are you clinging to words, titles, and descriptions that focus on how great you were then?  Use words that make sense to the company you’re talking to now  instead.

2.  Are you clinging to multisyllabic  or out-of-date titles and terms simply because “that’s what it was called”?  Nobody cares if the title was actually “Managing Regional Partner for Customer Support, Retention, and Attraction. ” Even if that was the title, use the equivalent generic–Regional Marketing VP

3.  Are you phrasing everything you can in current vernacular?  Clinging to the words you used then instead of working from what’s current makes you look old–and out of date.

4.  Are you highlighting what you can do NOW?   A section that summarizes your strengths placed at the beginning of your resume helps with this.

5.  Are you name dropping to make yourself look good?  This plays to the ageist stereotype. Stand on your own laurels….but make sure they are relevant.

6.  Are you using jargon?  Communicating in plain language, even if you are in a highly technical field, makes you a stronger candidate.  Jargon changes rapidly, and you can appear obsolete simply because the term you used is no longer standard.    Use as little jargon as you can.  Same deal with acronyms.  Jargon makes those who don’t use it on their jobs feel inferior when someone else does–and that’s not what you want to happen when someone looks at your resume.

This is not “dumbing down” your resume.  It’s getting smart about what you are trying to do with it in the first place.

 

New York Times Drivel

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

Just because it’s in the Times doesn’t mean it’s good.

Dan Barry”s article in the Dec. 31 edition is a great example of that.  He used the milestone of first boomers reaching retirement age to lambast  them for being self-absorbed and focused on entitlement.

I’d be willing to live with his assessment if he had support for the claim.  But to reach that conclusion, he relied his own impeccable insight, a book written by an Oklahoma history professor published in 2004, and a Pew Research study from June, 2008.  He’s a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist.  What the hell happened?  (The best part of the piece was the 305 mostly more informed comments it generated in just a few days.)

As the Pew report he quotes concludes, “Boomers are a big, complicated generation.”  But there is another force at work that Barry totally missed.  Things are changing and relying on information that old was a bad idea.  And a disservice to the generation and to the country.

On Jan 2, an article on the same subject by Ellen Goodman appeared in syndication.  She’s a Pulitzer Prize winner, too.  She may be smarter about this stuff than Barry because she retired earlier this year and is looking at it first hand.  She’s read a lot of the more recent books by leading experts on the subject.

And she came to a much different conclusion.  She gets it.  There are two very different opinions about older age right now.  One sees the huge potential for giving back and solving problems in those stepping out of the fulltime workforce.  The other focuses on the “glum” generation that Pew reported on–a generation focused on how to make it on what they have to work with–slim employment opportunties because of ageism and the shaky state of Social Security and Medicare.

This is a paradign shift of the first order.  It’s long overdue.  The version of retirement we are currently trying to use was already ineffective in 1960. Most likely, the kind of generation boomers are will make the outcome better rather than worse. Since they became old enough to take a stand, Barry’s “self-absorbed” generation challenged the unfairness of racial segregation, the legitimacy of a war we probably should not have been in, and the right of the good ol’ boys to deny women the chance to do challenging work and decide what their bodies will and won’t do.

Ageism is now another unfairness that needs to be addressed.  The way this society marginalizes older people is criminal.  It is also a tragic waste of resources that could be applied to many many problems we face as a nation, in business, and in our communities.  My guess is that boomers will step up to this one, too.

Entitlements are only an issue if empowerment is denied.  The members of the largest generation as well as those who follow will have a better world if we get rid of the idea that once people are old enough to retire, they’re not capable of contributing anymore.  (According to Penn State’s Seattle Longitudinal Study, verbal ability doesn’t even peak until your 60’s!) We’re turning people out to pasture who still want to work, and pretending we’re doing them a favor.

As early as 2005–before the financial meltdown, 83% of the 2400+ boomers in a Merrill Lynch study reported they wanted to work in retirement.  They are glum because finding work when you get to that point is extremely difficult.  They support aging parents and boomerang kids and still have to deal with the prospect of being replaced by someone “younger.”

That this group gets labled as “self absorbed” baffles me.  They make noise about things they don’t think are right, but it wasn’t just black boomers who protested racism.  It wasn’t just the guys who didn’t want to get drafted who protested the Vietnam War.

Anything large creates its own weather, be it Mount Rainier or the rocket hangar at Kennedy Space Center.  The boomer generation does change things, because it is BIG.  Hopefully, it will help move us to a smarter, more meaningful way to live the last third of our lives.  And then all those who come after who are griping about those self-absorbed boomers can reap the benefit of that, too.

 

The “Foolishness” of Not Preparing for Retirement

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

All those boomers who can’t afford to retire may not be the losers the “experts” make them out to be.  Another big study just came out reporting that millions of people on the brink of retirement don’t have the money saved to pull it off.   That may not be a bad thing.

Perhaps it’s the people making the predictions who need to stand back and take a better look at what’s going on. If it was all that important to those people to be able to retire, they would have prepared for it. But even before the financial meltdown of the last few years, baby boomers were not seeing the retirement years as the extended vacation it’s being painted as by financial planners and real estate developers.

In a study of over 3000 boomers in 2005, the Met Life Foundation found only 17% wanted to never work for pay again once they retired. Six percent wanted to go to work full time at something else. Seventeen percent want to work part time, 16% want to own their own businesses, and 6% want to do “other” things like join the Peace Corps.

For those of you who’ve been keeping track of the arithmetic on this, that leaves 42% still unexplained. What do they want to do? Cycle in and out of work. What better way to be sure you do that than to not have the money to “stay” retired? Many who do have the money do that same thing when they retire simply because it’s more enjoyable.

As a nation, we would be wise to look at how to use this immense temporary talent pool effectively instead of lamenting the “unretireability” of the masses. If we actually put some effort into using the potential of this segment of the population instead of shaming them for not trying to be what they never wanted to be in the first place, we would all win.

Economic boon
People who are actively earning are more willing to spend money than those living on passive income–even if there’s plenty of passive income involved. Even wealthy retirees adopt frugal behaviors, partly because it’s a way to demonstrate competence. If we gave these people the chance to work even a quarter of the time, the  loosened purse strings would have a startling positive effect on the economy.

Government cost containment
People who are engaged get sick less. They don’t dwell on their health problems because they have more interesting things to do. Both of those things mean trips to the doctor, the hospital, and to the medical lab will go down for those on Medicare. Let these people work some of the time and they will take better care of themselves simply so they can keep on doing that.  “First you retire and then you get sick” is true way too often.

Social hat trick
Work is one of the best sources of self-worth on the planet. When people get paid, they know they are good at something and that translates into a more positive attitude overall. A postivie attitude has been linked to better health, plus they are more effective contributors to the common good because they believe they can still make a difference.

In addition, getting retired workers involved on a part time basis can cut down on the workload of those in their prime work years who are stressed into illness and poor performance because of there is simply too much that they are expected to do in how we are going about it now.

Third, putting retired talent in the same place as the newest generation of workers will help develop work habits that are currently lacking in younger hires. The “old hands” can also pass down the knowledge needed to solve problems without creating new ones–knowledge there is no “ap” for.

Boomers have not saved for retirement because it’s retirement itself that needs to retire. The old cultural set-up simply won’t work with such a disproportionate number in the “retiring” generation and so few in the one that follows. (There are 77 million boomers and only 40 million in Generation X.) Instead of lamenting what individuals aren’t doing, we need to be building bridges to a whole new version of this time of life.

Once you are “old enough to retire,” the desire is for flexibility, not pure leisure. If we can harness the talent available in that pool and use it to make our for profit and not-for-profit efforts more effective, we all win–again and again and again.

This notion that boomers are stupid for not “getting ready to retire” is itself stupid. What the experts are urging them to get ready for is not, and was never, what they want to do. Let’s run with reality and shape some of the work that needs to be done so it replaces retirement.